James 1:5-8 might be portrayed as a classic quotation. It is a famous section of scripture and contains basic Christian teaching. The subject is clearly defined and may be authorized, ‘Heavenly wisdom: what it is and how to get it’. A thorough look at these verses will prompt various important and practical questions, each of which is clearly answered in the quotation.
1. WHAT IS IT?
We must comprehend what James means when he says, ”If any of you lacks wisdom…” What is this wisdom? Is this a promise for recommendation in times of confusion? Is this a promise for special insight and illustration when this is needed? Is the reference to intellectual knowledge or learning alone? These are most certainly included in the wisdom which we read about here, but this is a very practical thing and it has to do with the way a Christian lives. So it is not only intellectual: it is experimental. It is the gaining of spiritual understanding so that this knowledge may be achieved in gracious and godly living. Dr Alexander Maclaren says that this wisdom is the sum of practical religion. It is possible to obtain knowledge but to lack wisdom, to acquire vast knowledge but, in fact, to be a fool. This heavenly wisdom is spiritual discernment which is created experimental in its application to, and in the occasion of, daily living. In James 5:13-18 we are told what the truly wise man will be like.
(1) The wise man will necessarily have knowledge (verse 13); this wisdom is intellectual; but not only that, it is experimental and experiential as well; it will be shown in the way he lives.
(2) If we have this wisdom we shall be humble (verse 13). Matthew 11:29.
(3) If we have this wisdom our lives will not be characterised by envy, selfish ambition, and every evil technique (verses 14-16). These are not the marks of heavenly wisdom, for they are of the Devil.
(4) If we have this wisdom we shall live lives that are pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial and sincere.
This wisdom is not head knowledge alone, but it is also a spiritual and moral quality that governs in the life.
2. DO WE NEED IT?
In other words, do we lack this wisdom? Yes, we do! No-one is worthy to say that he is always holy, always peace-loving, always gentle, always approachable, always merciful, always kind in his actions, always impartial, always utterly sincere. We like to believe that we display these graces and virtues, but if we are credible we have to admit that we lack them to a great extent. Do we therefore need this wisdom? We do! We desire to know how God wants us to live, and we need to have the capacity to put that knowledge into action.
3. CAN WE HAVE IT?
Yes, we can! Note that James says, ”If any of you…” The reference is to every Christian, or as verse 2 reminds us, to “my brothers”, to those who are children in the gousehold of God – look up John 1:11-13. Not only can we know that God expects us to be pure, holy and peaceable, but we can actually be like this. It is God’s will that we should be so. We can have the heavenly wisdom, we can translate into our day-to-day lives the truth we understand from God’s word, so that our lives demonstrate the truth – look up Titus 2:10.
4. HOW CAN WE GET IT?
James 1:5 says, “…he should ask God”. This wisdom is a gift which is received by prayer. Notice that James does not say, ‘If any man lacks wisdom let him go to the university, or let him sit down and believe’! What is uttered of here is wisdom which is given to us and which we need so much – a gift which is not accomplished but which is given by God. Therefore to ensure it we must ask God, since the gift we crave and need is heavenly wisdom, and only God can give this. When we ask Him for wisdom, we must look unto Him in dependence and in recognition of who He is and what He is able and ready to do for us. It means asking not once, but continually and frequently until, as James says in James 1:4, we become “mature and complete, not lacking anything”. We must go on asking; the more we ask the further God will give, and the more we shall receive.
5. HOW IS IT GIVEN?
James 1:5 says “generously”, which implies that God does not give grudgingly. He does not give “out of ” His riches but “according to” His riches – look up Philippians 4:19. When we pray for wisdom He does not find mistake with us or punish us. This is how God excites to give!
6. HOW IS IT RECEIVED?
It is through asking by faith (verses 6-8) – asking in faith and receiving the answer by faith. When we ask we must have full assurance that God will hear and answer, because faith is a crucial requirement to answered prayer (Hebrews 11:6); compare Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24.
7. IS THIS A CERTAIN PROMISE?
Indeed it is! – James 1:5 assures us that the prayer for wisdom will necessarily be answered – look up the last part of James 4:2! Look up Colossians 3:16.